My partner Greg Bettinelli (worth following on Twitter) was recently named by The LA Business Journal as the “Top deal maker in Los Angeles in Venture Capital.” Numero uno. I was nowhere to be found. And that’s a true reflection of just how successful and prolific Greg has been in LA.
In a world that is hyper competitive – even amongst VCs – I can honestly say that not only is the media recognition accurate but it is amongst the proudest days I’ve had in developing Upfront Ventures and our future. Earnestly. No false praise (which anybody I work with can tell you I don’t do). In the end, if you’re not developing a deep bench of talented professionals who keep you on your toes, you’re bound to be disrupted. And Greg has had the most influence on Upfront Ventures’ strategy since he joined.
I joined Upfront Ventures in 2007 and took over as co-Managing Partner in 2011 along with the founder, Yves Sisteron. I asked for the responsibility of setting out the firm’s future strategy and our daily operating tasks. I laid out the following goals:
- Hire investment partners with operating experience combined with investment experience and deeply committed to LA Tech, but with strong relationships in SF, NYC and beyond.
- Create diversity of thought, experience and backgrounds in our senior ranks
- Build out our junior staff including pulling through some younger professionals into the investment ranks
- Invest more heavily in platform services
- Rebrand with a name that would authentically lay out our values. Upfront: “Direct, Approachable, Early-Stage, WYSIWYG & Unmistakenly Los Angeles” (Upfront is also a term from the media sector)
- Move our offices to Santa Monica so we could be closer to the early-stage companies being created in LA
- Build a long-term LP based, anchored by diverse asset types (Universities, Endowments, Family Offices, Pensions, Insurance Companies, Sovereign Wealth Funds & Fund of Funds)
My first task was to expand the partnership and my first hire was Greg Bettinelli. In a way it’s hard to hire self-confident, successful, opinionated people like Greg because for all of these reasons they’re willing to challenge your views and conventions. Trust me when I tell you I get no free passes from Greg. But his challenges only make us a better place, he’s pushed us to make sure we’re building systems to better track our markets and measure performance. He’s pushed us to be out in the community more. He’s even challenged some of our sacred cows on investment philosophy.
From 2007-2012 I scoured LA constantly. I tried to be at every event. I created an accelerator & mentor network (Launchpad LA). I sat on panels. I keynoted. I held breakfast roundtables. As a result I felt like I always knew what was going on and constantly received inbound intros / deals. But over time I found that with broader responsibilities (fund raising, recruiting, biz dev, etc.) I simply couldn’t be at everything.
Greg came along at the perfect time. He’s proved much more efficient that I ever was at tracking the activities of the community. He’s a force of nature. 7 times out of 10 he knows what’s going on before I do and is either slipping a paper on my desk, texting me or emailing me something about to go down. I realized 18 months ago what the LA Business Journal just recognized last week. Greg truly is a prolific deal maker and is amongst the most helpful people to entrepreneurs in our ecosystem.
I also noticed that inbound emails were no longer directed at just me. They now were often copying Greg and me (and now Greg, Kara and me!). And I realized that this meant the community recognized that we were truly a team and that Greg was as likely (if not more likely) to champion something than I was. Greg was instrumental in helping us build out our associate ranks and also was the initial champion of our hiring Kerry Bennett to head marketing. Yes, she’s worth following, too.
Upfront is now truly a team. We have 5 full-time investment partners, 1 full-time chief operating partner (who basically runs the firm other than investments) and 1 part time venture partner in addition to a great staff of principals, associates, platform professionals and our broader team of professionals. After Greg we hired Kara Nortman (make it a Twitter follow trio :)) as an investment partner and while she’s newer I have no doubts about the contributions she will make to our firm.
Having great partners and colleagues has made us a much better firm. Of course in many ways the easier solution is to keep all of the control, power & economics in the venture business and truthfully you could run this way for years before the outside world (or ever yourselves) would realize that a generation of firms has surpassed you. But I didn’t join Upfront to be complacent. And I didn’t make false commitments to the LPs who entrusted me to be a good steward of our values and to be inclusive in allowing others to help chart our evolution.
Greg and Kara won’t be the last full time partners Upfront hires. We don’t bring on staff lightly and we’re in no rush to add to our ranks. But we all believe deeply in the need to evolve, challenge ourselves and willing to even let ourselves be disrupted from within. If we don’t, we’re be disrupted from external sources.
But today is a moment to congratulate Greg. He’s not the sort of guy who takes compliments easily so I apologize to him in advance. But if you know Greg please reach out and say “thank you” and congrats. I don’t meet anybody in the LA community (and beyond) who doesn’t say that working with Greg has made them better and made our community better.
At 47, I’m nowhere near beginning to think about “succession planning” in its most formal sense. Yet I’m always thinking about it. I give advice to entrepreneurs constantly that “there should be no critical points of failure in key roles in your company – including at the CEO level” and if I weren’t thinking about our future I’d be a hypocrite. Great firms evolve and share power. Great firms find future leaders and develop them. Great firms build teams and empower them through autonomy and decision authority.
Great firms adapt. Or die.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)